Behind the call centre that handles scores of complaints on everything from voter registration to cash distribution

TN Election Commission Complaints cell is forever buzzing meet the youngsters behind it
news TN 2016 Friday, April 29, 2016 - 18:32

On the 7th floor of the Election Commission’s office, there is a quiet rush, talk of a lunch break that nobody is taking, and a light rustling of papers. The age demographic of the people is no different from ones you'd find in the hallways of a city college, a contrast from those on the 2nd floor near the TN CEO’s office. 

27-year-old Sekhar rushes through the day’s complaints after a meeting with the CEO. He gleams at the mention of his name, “I have never seen anyone so warm, or anyone who listens to a 20-odd young person like me with such interest,” he remarks. Sekhar Mathu is in charge of the Election Commission’s call centre, and mans the operation 24x7. “I go home to take a shower. Sometimes I sleep here in the office,” he says, with a tinge of pride in his voice. 

Sekhar is from Pudhukottai, and owes his management lessons to his hometown. “I worked for the EC during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and learnt that there isn’t much difference between managing a village festival and an election call centre,” he enthuses.

His restlessness seems infectious, as he opens the door leading to the call centre to a bustle of 50 women attending grievance calls. “This is just for the morning shift,” Sekhar clarifies. Pressing her headphones closer together, a woman is tensing up from a call and calls to Sekhar for help. It’s a complaint against an official, and she’s unsure if he could be an opposition party member or from the public. Another set of complaints are pouring in after a TV channel had conducted an extensive survey on who would win the polls this time. “Many are saying it’s unethical, that it will sway the voters,” Mala explains, adding that they had registered their grievances as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. 

“I’ve never bothered to look at a newspaper before, but since this job, I’ve had more interest in politics than ever,” Mala says. Some of the employees are from across Tamil Nadu’s small towns, and Mala is from Theni. While they plunged in and took the offer as a parttime gig, the 50 women have gotten closer than ever. Her friend, Begum, immediately recalls an enthusiastic caller who, without fail, contacts the call centre everyday. “So the first day, he called us and said it was his birthday and he had just turned 18 that day. He believed that by turning 18 by default meant he would be granted a voter id. He listened to the whole process. And the next day, he called. And called after that. He finally applied. And he’s been calling everyday for the past 10 days, asking if he’s registered,” she narrates. “In a stressful job like ours, he’s our comic relief and an inspiration of sorts.” 

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